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The Costumed Traveler

Iceland: The Land of Unexplainable Beauty

Iceland. It’s a country that is on every nature lovers bucket list. A country full of natural beauty and wonderful people.  A country that’s been voted to have the nicest people world wide for the better part of the last decade.  A country that will break the budget within the first day if you don’t prepare properly.  A country that will pull out the adventurous side of everyone and will leave you wanting to come back for more.

“Want to go to Iceland?”  Sure, why not!

The idea of a trip to Iceland came about when a good friend of mine said we needed to start looking into our next international trip.  Both of us are frequent international travelers and his next destination was in Europe so Iceland seemed to be the perfect middle ground for our next international trip.  Coming from the midwest, it was an easy international destination, one 1 hour flight followed by a 6 hour flight.  Not bad for someone wanting to visit a completely different culture and trying to add a stamp to the Passport.

Similar to most of my international adventures, there was very little research done before heading on the trip.  I heard from a few friends that visited the country to be prepared for everything to be expensive so making this a super budget friendly trip was going to be a bit of a difficult time, so I had an idea before hand this was definitely not going to be like my super inexpensive trips to Southeast Asia.  This was going to be an adventure of a lifetime, so I was okay with having to leave a bit more money in the budget.

Hostel Life at a Hotel Price.

The first day and night in Iceland was on my own so I did what I always do.  I checked Hostel World for the best hostel deals in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.  I was surprised when I noticed the average price for hostels was $65USD+ a night.  Thinking that all the hostels there might be private rooms, I dug a bit deeper to discover that that was not the case at all, for that price I would still find myself in a bunk room with 4 people.  Quite a bit different than the price I’ve paid for similar accommodations in the past.

I ended up staying at a hostel called the Hlemmur Square Hostel which was situated less than a block away from one of the main bus stops in Reykjavik, making it easy to catch a ride to and from the airport and anywhere else I needed to visit.  The hostel was quite nice, the main level included a large lobby area, complete with plenty of space to relax and a nice coffee/bar area.  The hostel hosts were full of knowledge and had a lot of useful information to share along with a nice list of great local restaurants, bars and sites to see.  The room itself was very similar to many of the hostels I’ve visited.  Bunk beds complete with large personal lockers with a restroom and shower room right down the hall.

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Bunk Room for 4 at Hlemmur Square Hostel

City Life – Adventuring around Reykjavik

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A view of Reykjavik from the top of the Lutheran Church.

The capital and largest city in Iceland is Reykjavik, which is located about 45 minutes from the international airport located in Keflavik.  To be honest, I would call it Iceland’s only city.  While there are countless towns sprawled across the country, the only one with  a larger population from what I saw was Reykjavik.  The city of Reykjavik is beautiful and full of history, an abundance of shopping and local restaurants and bars and a wide variety of local hotels, hostels and even a couple campgrounds.

As a summer traveler I thought spending one day and night in the city gave me plenty of time to visit the sites I needed to see and enjoy the local dining and nightlife options.  One of my favorite activities I did during the day was joining in on a two hour walking tour hosted by City Walk Iceland.  The tour began right outside of the Parliament building and visited many of the sites that Reykjavik has to offer.  Our guide was full of useful information and had quite the humorous personality which made the tour very worth the while.  The tour is considered “free” but a collection of donations is taken at the end of the tour.  Donating what you feel the tour is worth made it very stress free and the tour guide himself didn’t walk around holding a bag to donate, he just set a bag no the ground and went around answering questions while people walked up and gave their donation.

The dining experiences in Iceland are extraordinary, but also fairly expensive.  I had a nice local lunch which included a local fish casserole and couple side items as well as a beer which set me back about $40.  Later on in the day I enjoyed a light dinner with an appetizer of raw salmon followed by another appetizer of raw yellow fin tuna and a local cocktail for around $80.  The service charge is built in to the price of most restaurants so if you pay with a credit card there is no line for extra gratuity and it was a welcoming surprise to see that if you didn’t leave any extra money on the table you were thanked with a large smile and asked to come back soon.  A big difference from many of the European countries I’ve visited where service charge is included and you felt like you were being stared down if you didn’t leave an extra tip.

My favorite dining experience happened the last night I was on the island.  My friend and I decided to make a quick trip into the city after a 2 1/2 day adventure around the island where we ate nothing but snacks and felt the need for a real Icelandic meal.  We stumbled across a restaurant called The Fish Market and expected to just sit down and enjoy a couple local appetizers and beers, but what it turned into was much more.  Due to there only being two of us and no reservation, there was no seating available unless you sat in front of the area where the chefs prepared the food.  We waited about 15 minutes and luckily 2 seats became available.  Honestly, these were the best seats in the house!  To see the culinary creations made right in front of our face was quite the experience!

We settled in, ordered a couple local appetizers and drinks and kept a close eye on the others being served around us to see what was being ordered.  An older couple next to us had small plates being delivered every few minutes and we found out that the restaurant ordered a tasting menu which included four appetizers, three main dishes as well as an assortment of deserts.  It was a bit expensive, but to have a wide variety of local food it seemed like quite the deal, saying the average price for one appetizer was $30+ and the average main course was between $60+.  Each plate that was serviced was beautiful to look at and the unique flavors of each dish were incredible!  If you’re looking for a culinary experience, this is the place to do it!  Just remember to bring some money!  The tasting menu was set at about $110 per person, drinks not included.

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One of the many dishes we were served during our tasting menu.  This was the Shrimp Tempura.

Iceland Adventures and Unique Accommodations

The only real research I did before arriving to Iceland was looking into vehicles to get us around the island.  Thanks to a tip from my cousin who has visited previously I figured the only proper way to see the island was by renting a 4×4 vehicle with some time of attached camper or tent.  There is a wide variety of different options when it comes to this.  You can rent a super rugged lifted 4×4 that looks more like a heavy duty military vehicle that can crush everything in its path (for a small fortune), you can rent your typical 2-5 person RV’s, trucks with campers on the back or my favorite option: a smaller 4×4 with a pop up tent ON THE ROOF!  Of course we had to go with the final option, not only because it was hilarious to look at, but at $200/day it wasn’t breaking the bank!

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Our Suzuki 4×4 complete with Rooftop Tent. The ladder, chairs, table and cooking set was also included!

Ring Road and The Golden Circle

Two of Iceland’s most well known adventures include a tour around the Golden Circle and the Ring Road.

Ring Road is Route 1 around the island.  An 830 mile 2 lane highway that goes around the perimeter of much of the island.  It’s a narrow highway with twists and turns through the mountains and valleys with stops in many of the small towns across the country.  Most travel sites recommend leaving around 5 days minimum to do the route, we decided to do the entire route in 48 hours.  Lucky for us, we enjoyed 22 hours of sunlight each day and the 2 hours between sunset and sunrise we enjoyed some of the most spectacular colors in the sky that I have ever seen.  Needless to say, it never did get anywhere close to dark.

Our first day on the Ring Road included spending the first 12 hours detouring off to adventure around the Golden Circle, an area of Iceland outside of Reykjavik filled with beautiful waterfalls, geothermal areas full of mud pots, geysers and hot springs as well as many other natural beauties.  It seemed like every 10 minutes we were making another stop to see another amazing natural beauty.

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One of the many beautiful waterfalls we came across while visiting the Golden Circle

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One of the many geothermal hot springs located in the Golden Circle.

After our 12 hour detour we hopped back on Route 1 and visited a few beautiful beaches and as 1am approached we decided it was about time to find a camp ground.  Lucky for us, the 4×4 rental owner recently found a great camping site located 25 miles off of route 1 at the end of a 4×4 road that pulled into a beautiful valley.  We listened to his advice, pulled in at about 3am and set up shop for the night.

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Relaxing at Camp Site #1 after 15 hours of travel

We woke up the next morning, pulled out the map to start planning our day and thats when we discovered that we really didn’t make much ground at all in our first day of travel.  Honestly, we made it less than 1/8th of the way on the route so we knew we had a lot of ground to make up.  We packed our belongings, and folded up our tent (a process that took less than 5 minutes)  and were on our way!  The only issue we had was we kept running into incredible sites that we had to stop at!  We saw incredible waterfalls, giant cliffs, monstrous glaciers and the clearest of lakes filled with Icebergs so we continued stopping time and time again.  Before we knew it, it was already 9pm and we had only covered another 200 miles of land!IMG_4225FullSizeRender-3

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Glacier Bay, Iceland

Knowing that we had plenty of things we wanted to see the final day, we decided to pull an all nighter.  We would take turns driving, blasting tunes and listening to documentaries and drive as far as we could safely drive.  We would just push through to get as far as we could!  Mother Nature decided she was going to help us out and when 11pm hit the sun started to set while we were in the highlands and the sky was lit up with beautiful colors from sunset to sunrise.  Thoughts of sleep disappeared as we were both extremely wide eyed and just in awe of the beauty we saw.  As 4am rolled around we had covered an additional 400 miles and finally felt like we were in a comfortable spot to finish our journey the next morning.  We pulled about 100 feet off the road, popped the tent and were sound asleep 5 minutes later for a quick 3 hour nap.

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Midnight on the Ring Road
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2:00am.  Right before Sunrise
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Another Geothermal area in the highlands on the Northern side of the island.  This steam vent gave us the opportunity to get up close and warm up.

The morning of our final full day on the island we woke up and decided to once again adventure off of Route 1 and adventure around Iceland’s West Coast.  We quickly discovered that we were pretty spoiled with the weather over the past couple days as it was extremely windy and rained for the rest of the time we spent on the west coast.  We did cross some pretty spectacular lava fields and visit black sand beaches that were quite stunning, however the weather put quite the damper on our spirits and after very little sleep we seemed to be a bit edgy and less than impressed.  Our last stop before heading back to Reykjavik to repack, eat and relax would be a geothermal pool we found on Trip Advisor that came with some very unique reviews.  The pool itself which is a heated geothermal pool is also filled with green algae which gave a very unique look to the pool.  It was quite slimy and if we saw anything like it in the US there is no way you would consider entering.  However, there are plenty of health benefits due to the algae and the pool was quite busy with locals so we decided that it would be a unique place to visit and enjoy.  At the very least we would be able to shower for the first time in 3 days and relax for a bit and regroup.

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Black Sand Beach on the West Coast.
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We stopped by one of the geothermal pools on the West coast.  Tourists call it the ‘Green Lagoon’ due to the green algae that is all over the pool.  The locals say it has many health benefits!

 

Overall Experience: A++

Overall, Iceland lived up to all the expectations.  The people, the food, the sites and the experiences were all incredible and something that everyone should see at some point in their life.  Would I recommend spending 3 1/2 days on the island and attempt to see it all?  Absolutely not!  We are sure that we missed out on plenty of amazing sites, but we knew what we were in for from the start and made the best of every moment.  Would I recommend spending 5 -7 days adventuring around Ring Road like every other informational site recommends?  YES!  If time allows, it would be well worth it.

Summer is a magical time in Iceland and while some of the sites are a bit crowded, overall there wasn’t much traffic on the highway and you were truly able to enjoy the country without feeling stressed due to the amount of other tourists.

Do I see myself coming back to Iceland in the future?  If given the opportunity, I would love to!  Will I be back during the summer any time soon?  Probably not.  There is too much of the world to see.  Plus, I can already hear the Northern Lights of winter calling my name.

Thanks for the adventure Iceland, you were a treasure!

 

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Nomatic Travel Bag – The Ultimate Test

Nearly a year and a half ago a friend sent me a link to a Kickstarter campaign for a product called the Nomatic Travel Bag.  A bag that promised to be the ultimate travel bag, with pockets perfectly placed for easy access to everything you could possibly need.  I was a bit skeptical at first due to my extreme loyalty to my expensive TUMI bags, but I wanted to try something different.  I wanted a bag that could work as a duffel bag, yet have the ability to be carried as a backpack with ease, a bag that I haven’t seen up until this time.  I quickly backed the campaign and the wait was on.
Once the bag arrived I was eager to test it out.  I took it on a couple short trips and the bag worked great, but I needed to test it’s true ability. A test that would push it to it’s limits. I needed to give it the ultimate test.
The Ultimate Test
To do this I booked a 13 day trip to Southeast Asia.  A trip that would take me to 4 different countries over the course of the trip.  The catch was the only bag I could take was going to be this Nomatic Travel Bag.  If it didn’t fit in the bag, it wasn’t going on the trip.  Normally, I’d say this is the perfect bag for a weekend or a 3-5 day leisure trip, but a nearly 2 week long trip would really allow me to test the quality, feel, and ultimately my love or hate for the bag.
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What did I pack for this 2 week international adventure? Jeans (1), Rain Jacket (1), Swim Suit (1), Dress Shoes (1), Boat Shoes (1), Button Down Shirts (2), Polos (3), Tank Tops (3), T-Shirts (4), Athletic Shirts (4), Shorts (5), Socks (13), Boxer Briefs (18)
Packing Perfection
Packing the bag was quite simple, with numerous pockets throughout the bag it seemed quite easy to pack all the items I may need to get at a moments notice.  There’s and lockable RFID Blocking pocket which I was able to store my passport in along with extra cash, small pockets for all my cords and cables, room for my external hard drive as well as multiple power banks that I was traveling with.  It even has a pocket large enough for a set of shoes on one of the ends and a pocket on the other end large enough to store any additional small items that you may need quick access to throughout the trip.  The interior of the bag is quite large and has a built in sleeve for up to a 15in MacBook Pro and a smaller sleeve that I use to store a journal.

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The Nomatic Travel bag has pockets for nearly everything
 The Vacuum Bag came in quite handy and seemed to be built specifically for this bag.  With the ability to stuff all my boxer briefs, socks, multiple pairs of shorts, shirts, swim suits and work out clothes there was still plenty of room left over for the items I didn’t want to possibly wrinkle, like my button down shirts as well as a few other items.  With packing complete and a little extra room to spare, it was time to get this trip started.

The Perfect Size
One of the benefits of the Nomatic Travel Bag is it’s size.  According to the website it fits the international carry on size dimensions for most international carriers so there was no need to check a bag.  Even with the bag being completely packed full, it still fit in all the carry on baggage bins without a problem and seemed to be the perfect fit for the overhead bins.  Personally, I really enjoyed having the extra pocket on one of the ends so I could access all the small little items I may need without having to pull the bag out of the overhead storage in flight.  With a total of 15 flights on 5 different airlines and planes of all different sizes from large to extremely small there was never a time that I needed to gate check the bag on any of the flights.  To my surprise, I was even on a small prop jet for one flight and the bag fit perfectly overhead.
Nomatic Travel
With there being so many different stops throughout my trip, many of my stays were only for a night so there was a lot of traveling from place to place.  When the bag was fully loaded it was quite heavy, sitting at nearly 35 pounds so I could definitely feel the pressure it was putting on my shoulders even though the straps were nice and padded.  Lucky for me, I decided to buy the waist strap that is sold as an accessory to the bag and is easy attachable and detachable.  This was quite the life saver and took a large portion of the weight off my shoulders when traveling location to location.  I did attempt to carry the bag as a duffel a couple times, but found the leather strap to be a bit weak and it was quite uncomfortable to carry in my hand.  However, I’m guessing that if I was only packed for a weekend instead of a two week trip this would not be much of an issue.
Zippers of Perfection
Another feature that I loved about the bag was the lockable and waterproof zippers.  The zipper to the main compartment of the bag has the ability to be locked as well as a couple of the other pockets including the RFID pocket.  Especially when staying in hostels where I found myself leaving the bag sitting out in a shared area after check out, it was nice to have the security knowing my bag was locked and unable to be messed with.
Can I give an A+++?
Overall I was blown away by the quality of the product.  As I said before, I was a bit skeptical in the beginning, but after this trip I am proud to stand behind the product and know that it will be the only bag I use on my international adventures going forward.  Everything has a purpose and a reason for being included in the bag.  The material is strong, durable and waterproof and the bag received quite a bit of attention from other travelers on the road!
Want your own Nomatic Travel Bag?  Click Here
Do you have the bag already?  Tell me what you think!

 

Singapore Luxury on a Budget

Singapore.  It’s one of the most expensive countries I’ve visited, but I needed a challenge. Going to places like Vietnam and Thailand are easy when it comes to budget travel, everything is so inexpensive in the first place, you can do anything you want for a pretty inexpensive price.  Singapore on the other hand is quite the opposite.  Known for its fancy hotels and expensive cuisine, this seemed to be a good spot for a challenge.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that my flight was right about $800 round trip and I had a $550 travel voucher waiting to be used after last years Asian adventures.

The Goal: Find a upscale hotel with a rooftop pool and a view without breaking the bank.

When I started doing research for this trip there was one hotel that kept sticking out in my head.  The Marina Bay Sands.  Known for having the worlds largest infinity pool on top of its 55 story high towers it seemed to be the perfect spot!  I visited their website, found the least expensive room I could possible find and told myself I was going to ‘Treat Myself’ to one night in this amazing hotel.  The price: $550USD.

At the time it sounded like a fantastic idea and well worth the money, but after a couple days I began to wonder.  Is a hotel really worth $550/night because it has a great pool and a cool view?  I decided to ask a group of frequent flyers I know and the overall opinion was while the pool is amazing when it’s not super crowded, the hotel is nothing to be blown away by.  I went back to that reservation and cancelled it knowing there was going to be a better deal out there somewhere.

After a bit of research and a recommendation from a couple travel acquaintences I ran across a hotel that had close to the experience I was looking for.  A rooftop infinity pool 35 floors up, nice spacious rooms and right in the heart of downtown.  This is what I was looking for!  What hotel was it?  We will get to that in a little bit.

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The Marina Bay Sands: One of Singapore’s most famous hotels.

Night 1: The Transit Hotel: Aerotel Hotel

When I arrived to Singapore I didn’t land until a little before midnight.  I figured there was no purpose in trying to book a nice hotel when I was going to be missing out on most of the stay so I did a little digging and found that there was a short term hotel right in the terminal!  This hotel allows people to book for a 3 hour minimum and then charges you hourly after that.  The rooms were quite small, only enough room for a twin sized mattress, a small desk and a little room for your luggage, but it was meant to allow people to get a quick snooze in before or between flights.  The rooms do not include bathrooms so you walk down the hall to where there were about 4 private bathrooms complete with showers.  All of which were extremely clean and checked regularly so for those that are freaked out about sharing a bathroom, don’t worry, the bathrooms were spotless.

 

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Aerotel Singapore: A small room with a single bed and a desk.  Perfect for a short stay.

Night 2: The Luxury Hotel: The Westin Singapore

The Westin Singapore is a fantastic hotel in downtown Singapore that starts on the 31st floor of one of the beautiful skyscrapers and has about 15 floors worth of rooms.  The view from the lobby is spectacular with their giant windows facing towards the bay.  The rooms were much different than what I’m used to when I stay in Asian hotels.  I’m used to extremely small and cramped rooms, but this room was beautiful!  Complete with a giant bathroom, vaulted ceilings and nice large windows this was one of the nicer hotel’s I’ve had the opportunity to stay at and it wasn’t even an upgraded room!

The pool was by far my favorite part of the hotel.  Situated on the 35th floor of the hotel, the infinity pool was nice and large and the entire rooftop deck was filled with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and plenty of greenery as well.  There was also a bar serving a nice variety of beers, cocktails and pizza’s for a very reasonable price compared to what I experienced the rest of the trip.  The pool attendants were very attentive and as soon as a guest left the area their their spot was cleaned and prepared for the next person.  They even allowed guests that were checking out that day to enjoy the pool as needed, so if they had an evening flight the hotel didn’t rush them off property as I’ve seen at other places.  Needless to say, I spent a large portion of my stay enjoying the views and relaxing.

Now what about the price?  The price for this hotel was much more affordable than what I would have been charged at the Marina Bay Sands.  The hotel room for one night ended up costing $258USD.

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The Westin Singapore features a rooftop infinity pool on the 35th floor of the hotel.

Night 3: The Hostel: The Port by Quarters Hostel

As nice as it was to stay at a nice upscale hotel to stick with my budget I moved myself from luxury living to what I call #HostelLife.  The week before I flew to Singapore I did a little digging on HostelWorld.com and found this great hostel right on the river called The Port by the Quarters.  The Port had permenant bunks that made you feel like you were almost sleeping in a little wooden cube.  Each of the cubes had a full size bed, electricity, ample lighting and a giant shade to pull down for privacy when it was time to sleep.  While the cubes weren’t sound proof, this is a big upgrade from the bunk rooms that I’m used to staying in with 6-12 people.  The room at The Port had about 20 of these permanent bunks in it, but in all honesty, I didn’t even notice.

The hostel was located right along the river next to Singapore’s major financial district.  Less than a 10 minute walk away we had the Parliament building as well as the court house. Right outside the door was Boat Quay, one of Singapore’s popular restaurant and bar streets full of eager tourists ready to throw down some serious cash for a beer and some decent food.  I admit it, I was guilty of visiting one of these overpriced establishments and found myself avoiding the street the rest of the trip.

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The Port by Quarters Hostel featured cubical bunk beds with plenty of locked storage beneath the bunk.

What about that awesome Marina Bay Sands View?

So one of the main reasons I wanted to stay at Marina Bay Sands was because of the view.  The rooftop overlooks much of Singapore and at 55 floors up, the views must be unbeatable.  Unbeatable for most, but there is one place that can put the Marina Bay Sands view to shame and that place would be 1-Altitude.  1-Altitude is a rooftop bar located in the Raffles Tower and truly on top of the building, 63 floors up.

The view?  Out of this world!  The Marina Bay Sands can be seen in the distance and looks like it’s hundreds of feet below. While walking around the rooftop there were truly unobstructed views of the entire city 360 degrees around.  While there was a cover charge of $30SGD or about $20USD, that did include a cocktail of your choice once you reached the rooftop.

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1-Altitude gives a birds eye view of Singapore.

So what was the cost?

Overall the price I paid for the three nights came to a total of $336 which averages out to $112/night.  While this definitely isn’t the least expensive place I’ve visited I felt comfortable knowing that I was able to bring the average price per night down tremendously by staying at a couple much less expensive places.  Overall, the experience I had was out of this world and the three night stay cost 3/5ths of a one night stay at the Marina Bay Sands.

Minimalistic Travel

Your next big vacation is right around the corner…  All of a sudden the bed is covered in clothes for every possible scenario and event.  Three of four pairs of jeans, all of your favorite pairs of shorts, stacks of t-shirts, dress shirts in every color, and work out attire for every day.  Next you move onto finding shoes that’ll work with every outfit, countless toiletries that you never use at home but you MIGHT need while on the road, and the hair dryer with the special diffusers and airflow concentrators that you MUST have even though the places you’ll be staying at have already mentioned that they have these products for your use.

Now it’s time to pack!  You go into the closet and grab your largest piece of luggage and start filling it with all the “necessities” only to find out that half of your stuff is still sitting on the bed when that bag is full.  You go back and grab a second bag and fill it full wit the left over must have items.  Finally, you’re ready for your trip!  You and your entire closet…

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 STOP THE MADNESS!

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I decided it was time to make a change and challenge myself to take only what I really needed, instead of everything that I thought I might need.  Through the process, I’ve been able go from traveling with a big rolling duffel, an international‑sized carry on, and a big backpack, down to traveling with nothing more than a small international‑sized backpack/duffel.  What’s even crazier?  I’ve been able to do sixteen day Round‑The‑World trips and multiple one to two week long trips by traveling this way.

There are countless benefits to traveling like a minimalist – saving on baggage fees being one of the big ones for people that don’t travel frequently.  Then you can add benefits like piece of mind and the security of knowing your bag is going to make it to its final destination because it’s in the cabin on the plane with you or it’s close to you on the train. There’s also the time saved when you don’t have to wait for luggage to appear at the airport – and then of course there’s the benefit of not having to haul all that luggage all over the place when you’re on the road!

 How do I do it?

Packing like a minimalist takes time and a little bit of research.

 Step 1: Know where you’re traveling and the purpose behind the trip.  If you’re going to an all inclusive resort in the Bahamas you need to pack differently than you would if you’re visiting a ski resort in the winter.  That’s a given, but you should check and see what the weather is like at that time of year and what kind of activities are planned during the trip.

 Step 2: Make a ‘NEED’ and a ‘WANT’ Pile.  This is when you need to be honest with yourself about what you really need to have.  I’ll use an upcoming 12 day trip as an example…  I am currently planning on visiting a part of the world that is hot and humid, and the forecast is showing rain for each and every day until late July.  I have three pairs of jeans that I love and really want to bring.  Chances are though that I probably won’t be wearing jeans that often with temperatures hitting 100+, so instead of taking all 3 jeans I pick the pair that will work with a good variety of outfits and put those in my ‘need’ pile, the other two pairs go to the ‘want’ pile.

Start doing this with everything you plan on bringing until you get down to what you KNOW you have to have for the trip.  Items like jeans and shoes take up a lot of room so really focus on slimming down that NEED pile.  The great part about this process is once you get everything packed and find that you have extra room, you can take some of those extra items and pack them in if you really want.

 Step 3: The Vacuum Bag Revolution!  One of my absolute favorite travel products I was recently introduced to is the Nomatic Vacuum Bag.  In the simplest of terms it’s a bag with a one way valve built in so as you squeeze the air out it compresses everything down.  It’s a simple concept but it’s helped me maximize the amount of space I have in my travel bags.  When I’m packing these bags I focus on finding items like t-shirts, extra shorts, underwear and socks (mainly items that can get a bit wrinkly without it being a big deal).  After I pack it full I start to squeeze out the air until there isn’t any left, seal the valve, and it’s ready to go – taking up around half the space or less!

Want one?  Visit the Nomatic website HERE!  Click on Accessories and you’ll see it!

Step 4: Toiletries I’ve traveled with so many people that bring monstrous sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner, giant bottles of hair spray, and never-opened jumbo tubes of toothpaste.  Minimize it! Not only is TSA going to take away all those ‘potentially hazardous’ items if they’re in your carry on, it’s also a huge waste of space! Why do you need two months worth of shampoo for a one week trip? These days there are travel sized bottles for practically everything.  Find some travel sized bottles, fill them full of the products you need, and save all that extra space!

File_004 The Final Step: Pack That Bag!  Let’s be honest…  There are countless ways to pack your bag and countless videos on how to save the most amount of space.  You can roll your clothes, you can fold it inside out and tuck it into itself, you can learn from a master or origami and turn your clothes into a swan, it doesn’t matter! You need to find the method that works best for you!  I used to love the rolling methods that I saw on YouTube, but they took so long that I just went back to a method of folding everything into a nice neat pile and finding the perfect spot for everything to fit. Just do what works for you and your luggage bag!

Congratulations!  Your bag is PACKED!  You’ve done it!  You’ve gone from bringing a 30 day supply of clothes for your 10 day trip to packing what you actually need and a little extra!  You, my friend now know how to Pack like a Pro!

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The Great Thailand Experience

Thailand.  It’s a place most people believe they will only be able to experience in photos.  A country that seems out of reach for so many.  A country known for spicy food, Thai Massage, beautiful beaches and incredible rainforests.  A country full of amazing people where everyone feels like they belong.  A country where you can party until the early hours of the morning or relax at a spa the entire day.

My Thailand experience was unlike anything I would have ever dreamed of.  I gained so much respect for the people and the culture during my short stay and did my best to do a little bit of everything during my stay.  At the same time this was what I call a ‘budget trip’ so the goal was to enjoy the sites and sounds, but don’t break the bank.

The Mission:  Roundtrip from the U.S. and back including Airfare, accommodations, food and entertainment for $1,000USD or less.

The Flight: Round Trip in Delta One (Business Class) for $70

The planning for this trip began a little over a month ago while I was sitting home researching different international locations.  I knew right off the bat that I had a photography job in California in the middle of May so I decided to tag an international trip onto this to save some money.  LAX is a HUGE international hub so being able to search for flights from LA instead of the midwest was a huge perk.  Using Google Flights I was able to put in the travel dates and Airline preference and search an entire continent in one click!  Bangkok was the first destination that popped up and round trip coach class fare from LAX to Bangkok showed up on Delta for $670USD.  With one seat left on this itinerary I quickly purchased the seat and by using some frequent flyer miles (10,000 = $100) I was able to bring the price down to $70 + 60,000miles.  By doing the pay with miles option I was unable to accrue any regular miles for my flight, but I did receive the MQM’s (Medallion Qualifying Miles) which are very important when trying to reach status tiers with the airline.

After the flight was purchased I quickly called the airline to see if I could use 2 of my 4 Global Upgrade Certificates, a perk given to Delta Diamond Medallion Flyers once they achieve status each year.  My LAX to Tokyo, Bangkok to Tokyo and Tokyo back to LAX flights were immediately upgraded to Business Class, while my  Tokyo to Bangkok flight was upgraded 36 hours before departure.

The Accommodations:  Hostel Life! $7USD to $13USD per night.

When planning a international budget friendly trip one of the things that can blow a budget faster than you can imagine is finding reasonable accommodations for an inexpensive price.  This is where Hostel World comes in.  Hostel World is an app you can download that allows you to search for hostels world wide.  The hostels rely heavily on guests reviewing their hostel and the guest reviews are an extremely accurate portrayal of what to experience.

Hostels are often extremely inexpensive due to the way they are set up.  Instead of booking a private room, you book a bunk in a shared room with between 4-12 people depending on the hostel.  The hostels I booked had anywhere between 6-10 bunks each along with lockers provided to keep your valuables safe.  It’s definitely a unique way to travel, but many of the other guests are from all around the world and are there for an adventure.  It’s extremely easy to make friends quickly and visit the sites in groups due to so many people wanting to do the same thing.

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Thailand Transportation: Travel like a local.  

Thailand transportation is extremely unique compared to other places I’ve visited around the world.  Of course there is always the option to hire a taxi, but whenever available my preferred mode of transportation was a Tuk Tuk or Red Truck.

Tuk Tuk! Tuk Tuk’s are EVERYWHERE and the drivers are licensed separately from taxi drivers.  They are much less expensive, but definitely more of a fun way of transportation.  The best way to explain them is by saying its a motor bike with a bench seat attached to the back, complete with a roof.  Many of the drivers take great pride in their Tuk Tuk and completely retrofit them with lights and sound systems to make it quite the experience.  I felt very safe each time I road in one of these and really enjoyed them, plus its a nice way to cool down in the extremely hot climate.

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I do have to say it is important to make sure to tell the driver exactly where you want to go.     I made the mistake of telling one of my drivers that I wanted to go to a place to drink and he definitely found some places for me to go.  The first place he attempted to drop me off at was a bar with 20 women sitting on chairs as you enter and a menu that included drinks and the number of women you wanted for an hour.  I believe the goal was more of companionship instead of them being prostitutes, but from what I was informed, it is customary to buy the ladies drinks while they are with you and the drinks are set at a very PREMIUM price so costumers unaware of what they are getting into could spend hundreds of dollars unknowingly in exchange for a couple hours of companionship.  The second place was even more sketchy, a massage parlor which included a “shower massage”…  I didn’t even ask what that was and made him fully aware if he did not take me to a bar full of paying customers he would not be receiving his fare.  After this we quickly found a fun location and on my way I went.

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Red Truck! In Chiang Mai there was another option which was a Red Truck.  Also known as a pick up truck with two bench seats and roof capable of carrying anywhere between 10-15 people.  These were also extremely inexpensive and a little bit more professional.  For example I took a 2 hour excursion where it was a 30 minute trip each way and the driver waited for me in the lot.  The total cost: 300 Baht or the equivalent of $8.50USD.  Even though its not customary to tip I gave him 50 Baht extra ($1.50USD) and he thanked me over and over with the namaste greeting and thank you thank you.

Motor bikes! The main way of transportation for a large chunk of the population is Motor Bike so pulling up to a stop light and being surrounded by 50-100 motor bikes became common place after the first day.  I was even able to catch a few rides from the locals from place to place.  My favorite massage therapist found me walking around town one afternoon and offered to take me to where I needed to go.  My Thai Friend, Ann, took me around town for a day on her motor bike.  One of the bars in Phuket even had a motor bike that took you from the bar to the restroom!  Quite the experience.

Hire a Private Driver!  During one of my days in Bangkok I was given a great tip to higher a driver for the day.  His name was Witoon and for the price of 2,000Baht he was available from 8 in the morning to 4:30 in the evening to take me to different places around Bangkok and beyond.  He knew English fairly well, but we often times found ourselves stuck as to what we were trying to say.  We were able to visit many different temples during the day and he explained what the different statues stood for and how long each of the temples was around.

Domestic Flights! Flights in and around the country are very inexpensive.  With one way flights ranging from $24 – $100 each way to destinations around the country I was able to arrive at the airport, look at flight costs on different airlines and purchase right then and there.  There was even a flight to Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam for $74 round trip, but due to my short stay I figured it would be best to stay in the country.  The small airlines in Thailand were quite different from the flights we are used to in the states.  They were half empty, and meal service was provided on every flight.  During my 45 minute flight from Phuket back to Bangkok they served a small fruit plate, toasted bread with cheese and sausage on top, a snack, water, juice and tea throughout the short 45 minute flight.  Quite impressive!

Activities: Budget Friendly to VIP LYFE!

There a little bit of everything in Thailand and thats the great thing about it!  Animal tourism is a huge market in Thailand, but at the same time it is very controversial. Many animal rights groups find the way the animals treated to be inhumane so before I dived in to these activities I did my research.  There is everything from elephant rides to playing with tigers, king cobra shows to primate photo ops.  I’ve never been huge into activities with animals so I decided to do my research and find a good Tiger exhibit to visit.

Play with a Tiger!  There is a place in Chiang Mai called Tiger Kingdom that allows you to get into a cage with tigers of all sizes, baby to full size adult.  I opted for the full size adult and 2-3 year old tiger.  For 1200 baht ($34USD)  I was able to hop into a cage with a full sized tiger, a trainer and a photographer for 10 minutes to be photographed with the tiger and see him chase around some toys.  After this we moved over to another cage that had 4 or 5 playful 2-3 year old tigers which seemed to be full of life.  It was an incredible experience that I would highly recommend to anyone.  After my visit I chatted with a couple that was staying at the same hostel that went and had the same experience.  They were both animal rights activists and were extremely impressed with how the animals were cared for and treated so I feel if they were okay with it, I wasn’t supporting anything bad.

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Temple Visits! Another incredible experience was taking a Red Truck to the top of a mountain to a Temple that overlooked all of Chiang Mai.  The trip took about 30 minutes each way and we were given an hour and a half to adventure around the temple and surrounding areas. Overall the ride was 500 baht per person ($14USD)  and depending on the number of people riding could have ranged from 300 baht to 1,000 baht.

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Rent a Bike!  While I was in Bangkok I decided to rent a bicycle for an early morning ride.  Although not the safest activity to do in the big city I felt that an early morning ride would be quite harmless and at a rental price of 20 baht for an hour, very inexpensive as well.  I was able to adventure around a couple markets that were getting set up, ride past a couple temples and get a bit lost in a couple sketchy areas of town.  What I really should have done was set a home destination so I knew where I needed to get back to, but that would have been far too simple.  Overall instead of a quick 5km ride I ended up riding 25km around Bangkok, and enjoyed a quick ride on the busy highway, being laughed at by an old lady who tried to help direct me to where I needed to go and giggled at by a bunch of school children.

Visit a Park!  There are many parks all over Thailand that are absolutely gorgeous.  On one of the days I went with a few of the amazing locals that I met to a beautiful lake off the beaten path.  The park was 50baht to enter, but was full of little huts along the water that you could relax in and there was a restaurant that would bring excellent local food to you.

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Long Boat through the Floating Market!  Thailand is known world wide for it’s famous floating markets.  They are in different places around Thailand, but only accessible by long boat.  Vendors from all over the area fill their boats with the goods they are trying to sell and barter with you as much as they can trying to make you buy their products.  You can buy everything in these markets from handmade goods to all different types of food and produce.  Renting a boat with a skilled driver ranges from 2,000baht to 3,000baht ($55-$83)  for a 1-2 hour trip through the market.  Price stays the same whether its 1 person renting the boat (like myself) or a group of 6.

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Club Life!  Bangkok is known for its world famous rooftop bars and I have to admit, they were quite impressive.  Unlike many of the other places I’ve visited, these rooftop bars were absolutely free to get into, but the drinks were rather expensive for Thailand.  I ended up at a rooftop bar called ‘Above 11’ a multi story roof top club situated at the top of one of the nicer hotels in Bangkok.  For a double jack and coke I ended up paying around 560 baht which was extremely expensive compared to the other drinks I was used to, but when you look at the price compared to many american clubs it was still pretty inexpensive. (For example, years ago I visited a roof top bar in NYC and spent $40-$50 per drink for a Jack and Coke)  Would I recommend these places?  ABSOLUTELY!  The views were incredible and although it was a pretty slow night, it was a nice way to relax.

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Thai Massage Heaven!  I quickly discovered one of my favorite activities was Thai massage.  No, I did not visit any of the happy ending massage parlors, no need for that.  Instead I visited a few massage centers in Chiang Mai that were ran by the local women’s prison.  The women that worked as massage therapists were nonviolent offenders who were trained in massage and currently incarcerated at the jail.  The money they made from the massages was saved for them for once they were released and the job experience helped them gain confidence to be put back into the work place after they were released.  Pretty smart idea if you ask me.  Do I know why they were in jail?  No, but I do know that you can be thrown in jail for speaking negatively of the King and for other very random things so I did not feel the least bit nervous about these women.  The massages were INCREDIBLE!  My body was practically turned into a human pretzel and pushed around and my back was walked on and pushed into different positions.  I ended up spending between 3-4 hours per day getting massages and enjoying other services they provided like facials (Hey, why not!) Thai Massage in Chiang Mai: 200baht per hour.  Thai Massage in Phuket: 300baht per hour.

Custom Suit?  Why not!  This is where my budget was blown..  I visited a custom tailor just to check out what he had available and ended up loving the experience!  There were hundreds of fabrics to choose from and everything was completely custom.  There was no trying on a pre made suit and having it altered, only a whole lot of measurements being taken and a cut of the fabric infront of my eyes.  We had about 6 fittings over the next day and a half to check and recheck how the suits were fitting and they turned out incredible!  I started with one suit and one dress shirt and walked away a day later with 2 suits and 5 dress shirts.  All made by hand that day.  Total cost for 2 suits, 5 dress shirts and belt: 16,000baht or $450USD.  This is where my budget was blown…

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Food: Holy SPICY!!!!!

The Thai food was absolutely incredible and widely available.  There seemed to be restaurants everywhere you looked with people screaming at you to come eat.  I tried to stick with the small restaurants that seemed to be small mom and pop shops and they did not disappoint.  Just remember, when they ask if you want it spicy they mean do you want it to be Thailand Spicy…  By Thailand Spicy I mean mouth burning, eyes watering, face sweating, lip burning spicy.  Of course most of the time I said yes, fearing the locals would laugh that I could not handle their spicy food.  Instead they laughed when I found myself ordering ice cream after each meal to help cure the burn.  But hey, it’s Thailand.  You have to have the spicy thai food!  American food is readily available as well so if you prefer your McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Starbucks there  is no need to worry.  That is everywhere as well, unfortunately..

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Overall experience: I LOVE THAILAND!  

Thailand was an incredible place. The people were phenomenal.  So inviting, accepting of everyone and enjoyable to be around.  The activities were plentiful.  The scenery was beautiful and the prices were fantastic.  I do have to say that one week in Thailand was definitely not enough, but if thats all you have available it’s still very well worth it.  Will I be back?  Absolutely.  I’m already looking into flights!  I have a feeling that Thailand will be one of those international locations that I continue going back to over and over again.

How much did I spend?  

My goal was to spend no more than $1,000USD.  In one way I pulled that off, in another I did not.  If it was not for the 2 custom suit and 5 custom shirt spending spree I would have definitely met my goal, but due to the extra’s I purchased I blew my budget by around $300.

MISSING: #FindFlatAndrew UPDATED

Updated: See bottom for most current information

Checking Luggage…  It’s something we all hate.  We take our luggage to the airport, drop it off with the Check-In desk and watch the bags disappear on a conveyor belt hoping that it will eventually end up on the plane, make it onto the connecting flight and eventually end up back in our hands at the end of the trip.  Most of the time we worry for no reason, our bags arrive and we go on our way, but every once and a while our bag seems to disappear.

This just happened to me last night when my beloved Flat Andrew disappeared and has yet to be found.  Flat Andrew has his own box which holds him securely for safe travel.  It’s a flat box with labels that say ‘Flat Andrew Project 3.0’ as well as my mailing address, contact information and Do Not Bend stickers all over the place.  He even gets special treatment from the airlines and is usually carried directly to the plane due to his size and shape.  You think this would be enough to help them find him, but airports are big places and sometimes things go wrong.  The next step is one of the most important steps in recovering your bags.  I’ll use my story to help guide you through the process.

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Filing a Claim: When you have a bag that does not arrive it’s very important to talk with the baggage services employee working for your airline.  This is where you explain to them what is missing and they immediately start searching for where the bag is and how to get it back to you.  Most of the time the bag or item just missed its connecting flight and will reunite with you shortly (most airlines even offer to deliver the bag to your destination), sometimes it takes a bit longer.  It’s extremely important to keep your cool when talking to the agent, these people did not misplace your bag on purpose and they cannot make the bag appear instantly with the snap of a finger.  They will do a lot more for you if you keep your cool.  They will ask for information like the baggage claim number, size, color, brand and value of items inside the bag, all of which will help them locate the bag fast and get it back to you.

Following up: Many airlines will give you a reference number so you can check on your bag and track it through a website.  This can ease your mind especially once they locate the bag so you have an idea of when you will be reunited with your items.  In some instances if it’s taking longer than normal (days, not hours) you can even request that they help pay for missing items.  I’m not saying that they will offer to pay for expensive business suits or other items, but if you are on a business trip and all your business attire was lost, sometimes they will do what they can to help you out.

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Social Media: Airlines hate being blasted on social media.  If for some reason you cannot get a response from the airline this is often your fastest way to get in touch with someone to help you with your problem.  Last night there was a line of people waiting to talk to the baggage claim lady and I had an Uber waiting, I didn’t have time to deal with it so I went to Twitter, received a response within a few minutes and was given a phone number to call.  The Delta representative was able to help within a few minutes and my claim was filed!

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Knowing your rights: The MOST important thing that people need to understand is the contract you enter when flying with an airline.  Often times the airline will supply the rights to you on the folder that holds your tickets, they also provide the information on their websites.  This is something I know inside and out and why I often times get more from airlines when they are in the wrong.  I know the baggage information for my airline so when I talk to them on the phone I bring up specific points so they know I am on top of my game.  Similar as to when my flights are delayed or cancelled, but I can explain all of that in a different story.  (This story is coming about due to an experience with Delta Airlines.  Click Here to view the Delta Contract of Carriage)

Updates: Tuesday, July 28th

After a quick discussion with @DeltaAssist late last night they informed me because #FlatAndrew is a time sensitive I needed to contact Baggage Services immediately for compensation.  The conversation was a quick one with my baggage assistant telling me to get what ever I needed printed and save receipts.  All invoices will be submitted after Flat Andrew 4.0 is received in good condition and Delta will take care of the charges!

Now I’m not saying that this is always the case, but overall with my experiences and other friends experiences this is often times the case.  It’s not a free ticket to go crazy, Flat Andrew is not going to be covered in Gold Flake or be rockin’ Platinum rings and chains, but he will be replaced!

Best bet is to always be honest with the airline and they will take care of you.  I don’t want to even imagine what would happen if I ordered 15 Flat Andrew’s claiming that that was what I lost and have them find out that there was only one missing.  Honesty with everything in life is always key to getting what you need!

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It’s going down… I’m yelling TINDER!!!!

Tinder. 

That’s all that needs to be said and all of a sudden people have a thousand different things going through their mind. Hook Up App, free dating app, swipe left, swipe right, Hot or Not on steroids, the young generations Match.com.  No, I’m not going to tell you the BEST WAY TO GET LUCKY, I wouldn’t know!  I’m going to tell you about a totally different way to use Tinder and the benefits behind it.

Tinder is a powerful social app with MILLIONS of downloads across the globe.  Although most people use Tinder for the reasons above, I have found a totally different use that allows me to get the inside scoop on a city, state or country before even visiting.  What could be better than a local who knows the city inside and out and is proud of where they come from?  Need advice on fun things to do while in town?  Chances are the locals have probably been there and done that!

I tested this out last week when I went to Istanbul, Turkey.  I matched with a lady who has been living in Istanbul for quite a few years.  Was I attracted to her?  No, I just swiped right to a WHOLE BUNCH OF PEOPLE and she came off as intrigued as to why I was swiping in Istanbul from over 5,000 miles away.  I told her right off the bat I was just looking for some ideas of things to do while in town, places to eat, information on the culture and she was full of knowledge!

She lived on the Asia side of Istanbul and I was staying on the European side so she was able to tell me what made the Asian side different then the European.  She gave me information on the ferry system between the two continents, what town to get off the boat in, different sites to see and a couple ideas for restaurants to visit.  She even gave some information on the laws so my hostel friends and I knew what we could and couldn’t do (We ended up grabbing a couple beers and taking them down to the park to drink.  Definitely not something you would want to do if it was illegal).

This individual ended up helping so much throughout the week and was just a friendly person in a foreign land.  No talk of hook ups, dating, or getting together, just an lady that was excited that I was enjoying her city and eager to get out and adventure around the city.  If you’re on Tinder and going to a different place, try it out!  It’ll give you an experience completely different then you would ever expect!

*Note* Just like many other apps, Tinder is an app that should be used cautiously.  Don’t ever give the individual private information about you including your address, apartment complex, dormitory, etc.  If you decide to meet the person meet in a area surrounded by other people and let someone know where you are meeting. It’s always better to be safe than sorry! Practice safe Tindering my friends!

-Andrew Dean

The Costumed Traveler

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Inexpensive International Travel

What if I told you that last week I went to Istanbul, Turkey and the trip cost less than $1,000.  Airfare, accommodations, food, sight seeing, entertainment and drinks all included under that $1k umbrella.  Would you believe me?  You should, because it’s absolutely true!

When we think of international travel in the states we often think of astronomical airfare prices, expensive hotels, horrible ground transportation, expensive meals and over priced tours.  It doesn’t have to be that way!  With a few simple changes in your itinerary you can save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  I saved so much that I’m considering another last minute international trip as we speak!  How did I do it?  Read on…

Flights: Often times the most expensive part of your intentional trip happens to be the flight.  You’re told that you have to book “months out to receive the best deal” and that flights of over $1,000 are normal.  This is often true, but if you have some flexibility in your schedule and a boss that is willing to give you a last minute break, finding a last minute international flight is often times pretty inexpensive.  How do you find them?  You can search for hours and hours throwing in search after search in travel search engines or you can do the easier thing and follow some of the top travel experts themselves.  (ThePointsGuy.com is my favorite).  Here you are often able to find inexpensive round trips based out of large airports from around the country.  Once you find the deal, BOOK IT!  A lot of these flights deals disappear just as fast as they appear so it’s important to get on it fast.

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Where to stay: Hotels are a great place to stay, but they can get expensive fast.  What I like to do is think about the amount of time I am going to spend in the hotel.  For me, I go there to sleep for a few hours then adventure on!  Imagine this: You’re traveling by yourself and stay in a country for 4 nights at $129 a night.  That’s over $500 for a place that you are going to do NOTHING BUT SLEEP IN!  Do yourself a favor and try something new.

The Hostel Experience:  The word ‘hostel’ brings fear to many people.  They have heard horrible stories about nightmarish stays in these places.  They have seen the movie ‘Hostel’ and imagine that hostels might as well be death traps.  Now I’m not hear to say that every hostel is a wonderful place, but overall the experience for most people is a good one. The hostel I stayed in last week had 6 floors and a Roof Top Terrace complete with a full bar, food and live music multiple nights a week!  You also have different room arrangements, for those of us that want to travel the least expensive way possible there are bunk rooms.  Often times they have 8 person rooms or 4 person rooms, then semi private rooms and private rooms for those that want a bit more privacy.  These bunk rooms are often times your best opportunity to make life long friends and find people interested in traveling to similar areas around the city!  Most hostels also have private lockers for you to store your stuff in while you’re adventuring so just for safety purposes make sure to lock up your stuff!

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Adventures: The first thing I asked when I arrived at my hostel was “What should I do while I am here?”.  The response I received was not what I was expecting, he told me to “Go!  Get lost in Istanbul!  Go straight, then take a left, then a right, then walk further and go get lost!  Istanbul will take care of you.” and take care of me she did!  After a day of getting lost I went on to find a tourist map of all the tourist places around the city.  All of which ended up being within an hour long walk of the hostel. Every where you go there are people offering tours, tour boats, tour buses, walking tours, running tours, moped tours, blah blah blah.  SKIP IT!  Skip it or find a tour that hits on a special part of the city.  the worst thing you could do is sign up for a 12 hour tour and be stuck with a bunch of randoms and never actually see any of the cool stuff you want to see.

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Ground Transportation: Europe is known for its amazing transportation systems.  They have city buses, rail systems, street cars, subways..  You name it, they have it!  Most of the time they have passes you can buy that allow you access to all of the transportation as well.  Forget about renting a car, this is the easiest way to get around.  Taxi’s are always a great option as well if you are trying to get to a specific destination, just make sure you pronounce the name correctly and ask for an estimated fare before hoping in (I recommend having them write down a number so you can see, otherwise you might be in for a big misunderstanding).  Want to hear a story about a taxi misunderstanding?  Well you’re going to hear it anyway.

The Great Taxi Adventure of 2015: Last week in Istanbul I was attempting to visit a friend of mine in a town called Kadikoy. The driver who didn’t speak a word of english repeated the word a couple times and I said “yes”.  The pronunciation didn’t sound like what I expected but it was close enough.  After a 15 minute drive I was wondering why it was taking so long and saw that we were driving over a bridge, i shrugged my shoulders and asked where we were going and he pointed to a map that said “Karakoy”. The mistake was my fault because I didn’t even think that there would be two towns so close together with nearly the same spelling.  Even worse, the town I was wanting to go to was on the Asia side of Istanbul while the town he was driving me to was on the European side.  Hello night mare of a trip!  What did I learn from the experience? I may be one of the only people that can say they took a taxi to the wrong continent.  Lesson learned!

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Food and Beverage: Every country is known for their specialities and every country is known to have super duper crazy expensive restaurants as well as inexpensive restaurants.  Through my adventures I would say the best way to find a restaurant in your price range is through YELP!.  Download it now!  Each day I grabbed a small lunch at a local restaurant and each night I went to a different restaurant for a nicer meal.  I would say the most I spent on a meal was $20 and ate like a king.

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If you’re looking for a night on the town I always recommend not going alone.  You never know what can happen to you when you’re by yourself, even in the safest of international cities.  Take your hostel friends with you and go out for a fun time.  Once again, I always recommend using Yelp to find a good place to go and don’t be pushed into going into a bar just because a pesky person is standing outside telling you to come in.  Why?  Because every once and a while bad things happen.  Another story.

The Clubbing by Yourself Mistake: While I was staying at the hostel I met another traveler who decided to go to the bars and clubs alone the night before.  What happened made our jaws drop.  So this friend of mine was going bar to bar and eventually was told to come into this club by a party promoter standing out front.  He was already pretty drunk so he went in and sat down for a drink.  All of a sudden a couple girls came out of no where and started dancing around, fully clothed.  He finished his drink and found the place a bit shady so he asked to pay his tab and leave.  The bartender told him that it would be 400TL (equivalent of around $175USD) he said there must be a mistake and asked to speak to a manager.  All of a sudden he found himself surrounded by 6 large men telling him to pay up.  He luckily had the cash and scurried out and never looked back.

Now I’m not saying that that always happens, but you just have to be careful.  Drinking alone in a foreign country = BAD.

Wrapping Up: International travel should be something that everyone has on their list of things to do at some point in their life.  As Americans, very few of us every take the opportunity to travel abroad and stay in our own country.  There is nothing wrong with that, but you’re missing out on the opportunity to learn about different cultures, different religions and see some of the most amazing sights in the world! Keep a look out for those flight deals and make your own amazing adventure happen.  Safe travels!

-Andrew Dean

The Costumed Traveler

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Airport Terminal Traffic Flow

It’s Monday morning and I’m finally heading back to Omaha for a couple days!  Louisville to Detroit then off to Omaha I go.  On this beautiful Monday morning where everyone except myself is acting like they have ‘the case of the Mondays’ I have decided it is the PERFECT OPPORTUNITY to explain one of the worlds simplest things: How to walk through an airport terminal.

Now this might sound simple to most, but anyone who has ever been to an airport knows that people instantly forget how to do anything correct as soon as they step in the airport.  I have included stories of what not to do as well as the solution.  Of course all of the stories are true, half of them have already happened this morning!  Let us begin.

1. Moving Walkways: These things are genius.  Definitely created by an American because we would hate to spend the extra 15 seconds it takes to walk through the terminal without one.  These should be one of the EASIEST THINGS to understand because there is always a sign that says “Walk on the left, stand on the right.” followed by a magical voice that announces the same thing.  Unfortunately, most people do not understand this.  They stand side by side like two semi trucks slowly moving down the interstate.  MOVE, Get out the way!

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2.  Walking from Gate to Gate: Airport Terminals are kind of like miniature interstate systems in a major metropolitan area.  Well, unless you’re flying through a regional airport, then it’s like you’re in a small farm town in the middle of the Heartland (The middle of Nebraska for example, not Omaha…  We are about to hit 1,000,000 people in 15 years.  We are BIG TIME) Anyway..  When you are traveling through the airport, stick to the right hand side of the hallway, just like when you’re driving on the roads in the U.S.  (Right Hand Traffic)  Walking on the opposite side of hallway is like driving down the wrong side of the interstate, it’s not smart! (Go home Suzie, you drunk!)  If you find yourself walking against the traffic and running into countless individuals, chances are you are on the wrong side of the terminal.  Do yourself a favor and ‘merge’ into the correct lane of traffic.  Everyone will thank you.  Especially the inexperienced traveler who only has 40 minutes to catch his connection but thinks running through the airport with his three carry ons, 20 boarding pass copies and flippy floppies is the only way to make it to the gate in time before departure.

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3.  Airport turn lanes and using your turn signal:  There is no such thing.  You won’t see them so don’t look.  Every once and a while the Terminal B Starbucks just happens to be on the opposite side of the hall way and you need to find a way to get there.  Most people come to a halt, get the apologetic look on their face knowing they are going to cause havoc crossing into incoming traffic and then breath a sigh of relief when they get in line for their Venti Double Chocolate Chip Frap with an extra dollop of whip cream.  The best way to avoid this is to continue walking straight ahead until you find a gap, make a quick U-Turn into the proper lane get into the exit lane and find yourself right where you belong at the back of a line 30 people deep.

4. Airport Reunions: Every once and a while you are bound to run into someone you know.  Chances are they are walking the opposite direction and have hours to burn and want to catch up on every moment of your life.  We’ve all seen it.  The Youth Group of 20 that runs into their friend that recently went to college.  They run into each other and INSTANTLY STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HALL WAY!!!!  Let’s think about this a different way.  You are driving down the interstate and see a bus coming the opposite direction full of high school kids on their way to a week at camp.  You would NEVER slam on the breaks and have small talk in the middle of the road, would you?  Same here!  Make your U-Turn to join your friends, hop in the exit row and find a gate with plenty of room for all of you to talk.

5.  The Gate Experience:  People LOVE attempting to be the first person to board the plane.  Especially people that do not understand how the airlines boarding system.  This always causes the worst traffic jams in the airport.  I would go as far as comparing it to the traffic jams we saw in Will Smiths famous movie, ‘Independence Day’ when everyone was attempting to flee the city.  People will stand in front of the gate, then more and more people join behind and keep building up until most of the hallway is blocked off.  This isn’t good for anyone.  Especially those who are trying to get passed the Armageddon sized traffic jam.  Look below for a couple tips:

Tip 1: If you are not 80 years old or older, need a wheel chair to board the plane, have children under the age of two, flying first class, have the little thing on your ticket that says ‘Priority boarding’, or have the airlines credit card that allows you early access to the plane do yourself and everyone else a favor and sit your sweet behind in a chair! The plane isn’t leaving you and there should be no rush to board the plane faster than needed.

Tip 2: If you are flying Southwest Airlines the work is done for you.  Your boarding Letter and Number are listed right on your ticket.  If you are not in the ‘A’ Boarding group, sit your butt down until they tell you to line up for B or C.  I’m amazed every time I fly.  They gate agent practically spoon feeds you how to board.  “If you are in group A please line up at this time.  Don’t be shy, ask others what boarding number they are and get in line where you belong. If you are in Boarding Group B or C please sit down until A is boarded.”  How much easier can it get?  Yet we still find the guy who is number C59 trying to board the plane right behind A15.  Yes, everyone is glaring at you sir.  Sit back down. *Check in begins 24 hours before your flight boards.  Download the app and make sure you check in at this time to get a good boarding number.  If you are horrible at remembering this, pay the extra $15 for Early Bird check in and it’s done for you.  Boarding Group C should be changed to Boarding Group STBU YGTBSITMS (For those that didn’t catch on that would be Sucks To Be You, You’re Going To Be Stuck In The Middle Seat)

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6. Boarding The Plane:  Ahhhh we are finally there.  Once you step on the plane it’s best that you find your seat as fast as possible, get out of the aisle so people can pass, place your large carry on above and sit down in your seat.  Many people these days decide that they should take their sweet time slowly walking down the aisle, waving at people that they barely know like Ms. America on the parade route.  Then they stand in the middle of the aisle going through their bag to find their cell phone charger, their ham and cheese sandwich, their much needed neck pillow for the 40 minute flight from Louisville to Detroit (Dealing with that as we speak) and then they finally notice that they have been holding up the line so they apologize, stand there for a few more seconds and finally sit down.

In conclusion, by following these simple rules the airport experience will be a bazillion times better for you as well as everyone around you.  Also, if your seat mate is one of those people that loves staring at your screen the whole entire flight while you are typing, make sure to exaggerate some things about him.  (Yes, my seat mate does have a neck pillow he spent a couple minutes finding, but he did not bring a  ham and cheese sandwich on board with him.  He just asked if I was talking about him in my blog….. Mind ya own business, bro!)

-Andrew Dean

The Costumed Traveler

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